Chord Construction Part 6: The Extended Major Chord

The Theory:

For this explanation we are going to start with a maj7 chord as our foundation or starting point.

As you know we can get to a maj7 chord by "stacking 3rd's" from the Root. Like so...

R M3 5 M7

This is also every other note of a Major Scale within the first octave.

In the key of C we'd have:

C E G B

Again, when C is the Root of a Major Scale and we count out every other, or 3rd, note in the first octave, we end up with the Intervals R M3 5 M7 or the notes, C E G B.

This is a concept you must grasp to continue on, as it will make it very easy to see things transform as we continue.

Let's look at every other note in a two octave Major Scale:

R M3 5 M7 9 11 13

To continue building Extended Chord formulas, use the maj7 formula and "stack" the remaining notes on top of it.

When you stack the remaining notes on each other you keep extending the chord to a bigger chord.

These are the chord names and chord formulas you create:

maj7 = R M3 5 M7
maj9 = R M3 5 M7 9
maj11 = R M3 5 M7 9 11
maj13 = R M3 5 M7 9 11 13

See how we keep stacking the notes on top of each other including all notes before the highest Interval? This is the key idea behind Extended Chords...you keep extending it higher and higher.

So,

in order to call a chord a maj9 chord, it has to have a R M3 5 M7 and 9.

in order to call a chord a maj11 chord, it has to have a R M3 5 M7 9 and 11.

in order to call a chord a maj13 chord, it has to have a R M3 5 M7 9 11 and 13.

With these "rules" we can think of the Extended chords as being "inclusive chords". Meaning, to go any higher in number we need to include the Intervals/3rd's below it.

They are also inclusive when you notice the highest Extended Major chord you can build, a maj13, includes every note name in the scale. Here's an example with the notes, in order, for a Cmaj13:

Cmaj13 = C E G B D F A C

Re-order those notes and you get:

C D E F G A B C... These are all the notes in a C Major Scale.

Ok...that's the "theory" behind it...the "reality" behind it is where things can get tricky and blurry. But, if you use all the Chord building formulas/ideas that I've shown in this series things become "logical" when trying to figure out what notes make up what chord.

The Reality:

With the lay out of the guitar you are probably already aware that sometimes you "double" notes or "omit" notes when playing chords. This is commonly apparent when looking at the guitar like: five fingers and six strings. You can see where you might have to omit a note or double a note sometimes.

Also, if you look at the maj13 chord, it has seven notes in it...and we only have six string, and four (five) fingers. So, you can see where some notes going to have to be omitted.

What if you where asked to play a Cmaj13 chord...one of the few (not the only) ways you can play ALMOST EVERY note in the chord is like this:

--10- = 9
--10- = 13
--9-- = M3
--9-- = M7
--8-- = 11
--8-- = R

Remember, the maj13 chord is a seven note chord, so with six strings we are going have to omit some note. In this chord we've omitted the 5. If you remember the 5 wasn't detrimental to a chord/Triad being Major or Minor...it was the M3 or the b3 the MADE a chord Major or Minor.

So, it is very common to start omitting notes by looking at the 5 as a possible note to drop.

But, now that we've removed the 5, can we still call this chord a Cmaj13 chord? With a note omitted, it is not completely inclusive anymore, or completely stacked.

Yes, you can still call this chord a Cmaj13, you can still use this chord as a Cmaj13 chord...but when you listen to this particular chord pattern, it SOUNDS nasty. So, would you want to use it anyways??? Chances are, unless it was played in the correct context with other chord voicings, you would probably never use this chord.

So now what???

You will find that one of the biggest/common clashes you will run into with Major Extended Chords is when the 11 Interval is either next to a M3 or it replaces a M3.

This common clash is why the chord I presented does not sound good on it's own. Having the M3 and 11 in the chord gives it a dissonant "rub". And, it's not what we want to hear when playing a Major type chord. Major chords are pretty, right?

If you did omit the M3, the 11 sounds like it replaces the M3...remembering the 11 can also be called the 4 (4/11) and remembering the theory behind a Suspended Chord...having an 11 and no M3 could give the chord a sound of a sus4 chord. Like the 11, or 4, leaves it hanging, unresolved. Like "where's the 3rd?"

So, another note you may want to try as a possible note to omit is the 11 when playing a maj13 chord.

All the other notes, R M3 5 M7 9 and 13 should sound fine together most all the time and in any given order. Just watch out for the 11, ok?

So, with these two "rules" or common practices, let's revise the chord I presented and hear the beautiful sound of a Cmaj13 on the guitar:

--10- = 9
--10- = 13
--9-- = M3
--9-- = M7
--x--
--8-- = R

Now doesn't that sound much better? To most people it will. By using those two common practices for Extended Major chords you end up with a very nice sounding Cmaj13 chord, containing a good amount of the needed notes too.

Ok, in reality now that we've dropped the 11, we could add back in the 5 if we wanted:

--10- = 9
--10- = 13
--9-- = M3
--9-- = M7
--10- = 5
--8-- = R

But, that's not too practical to play on the fly. So let's stay with this chord as one possible way to play a Cmaj13 chord:

--10- = 9
--10- = 13
--9-- = M3
--9-- = M7
--x--
--8-- = R

Let's look at some other realities with naming Major Extended chords, and keeping in mind all the other chord formulas we worked with in the past lessons.

In a maj9 chord (R M3 5 M7 9) what if I needed to omit the M7 note due to the voicing that worked best for a chord. This leaves me with:

R M3 5 + 9

Isn't that also the formula for an "add9 chord"? But, it could also be thought of as a maj9 chord with M7 omitted.

These are the kind of "gray areas" you can run into with chords. The more you know about formulas the easier it is to adjust and "have a chord to play" for what might be charted out on a sheet of music.

If the sheet music was to decide for you that you must omit the M7 interval, they would've named it an add9 chord. But, in functioning on the guitar and finding voices, the maj9 chord could be played as an add9 chord and no one will yell at you.

More reality...

If it calls for a maj9 chord and you play the one with the M7 omitted, are you wrong? Not really in reality. The determining factor is, how does it sound? If it sounds like it covers the "needed" notes to make things flow, then go ahead and play it. If it sounds like it's missing something, try omitting a different Interval and adding back in the M7.

Now you can see the more you become familiar with chord formulas the more flexible you can be and still cover the basis, or "have a chord to play".

Without getting too hog-wild or contorted, here's a number of movable Extended chord forms (Remember whatever note name the Root is, is also the Root of the chord or the note name of the chord). Every chord may not contain every stacked note, or some may sound better than other, but it should give a good foundation for finding where Intervals are located on the fretboard from the Root note, and playing some of these common chords.

Cmaj7:

--0-- = M3
--0-- = M7
--0-- = 5
--2-- = M3
--3-- = R
--x--

--3-- = 5
--5-- = M3
--4-- = M7
--5-- = 5
--3-- = R
--x--

--x--
--8-- = 5
--9-- = M3
--9-- = M7
--x--
--8-- = R

--7-- = M7
--8-- = 5
--9-- = M3
--10- = R
--x--
--x--

--12-- = M3
--12-- = M7
--12-- = 5
--10-- = R
--x---
--x---

Cmaj9:

--0-- = M3
--0-- = M7
--0-- = 5
--0-- = 9
--3-- = R
--x--

--x--
--3-- = 9
--4-- = M7
--2-- = M3
--3-- = R
--x--

--x--
--8-- = 5
--7-- = 9
--9-- = M7
--x--
--8-- = R

--10-- = 9
--12-- = M7
--12-- = 5
--10-- = R
--x----
--x---

Cmaj11 (again the 11 can give you the chord a bad rub, but if it's a maj11...the 11 has to be a key point to the voicing):

--1-- = 11
--0-- = M7
--0-- = 5
--0-- = 9
--3-- = R
--x--

--x--
--6-- = 11
--9-- = M3
--9-- = M7
--x--
--8-- = R

Cmaj13:

--10- = 9
--10- = 13
--9-- = M3
--9-- = M7
--x--
--8-- = R

--x--
--6-- = 11
--7-- = 9
--7-- = 13
--x--
--8-- = R